Microsoft Touts Windows Phone 7's Business Features

When it arrives on devices later this year, Windows Phone 7 will include integration with both Sharepoint and Exchange, and users will also be able to access cloud-based apps from Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) from their mobile devices, Paul Bryan, senior director of product Management for Windows Phone, said in a Monday blog post.

One of Windows Mobile's biggest shortcomings was its clunky user interface, which limited the operating system's appeal to hardcore business users. With Windows Phone 7, Microsoft wants to banish the ghosts of Windows Mobile's past with an operating system that knocks the socks off both consumers and business users.

"We got an earful from customers about this and recognized that it was time for a change," said Terry Myerson, corporate vice president of Windows Phone engineering, in a Monday session at TechEd.

Microsoft now realizes that people want a single mobile device for work and for play, and it's creating the necessary separation through Windows Phone 7's hubs. For example, users can access familiar apps like PowerPoint, OneNote, Word, and Excel through the Office hub, and read Facebook updates on the People Hub.

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With Windows Phone 7, Microsoft is also providing a more consistent target for developers and exerting more control over the hardware. It's a step in the direction of what Apple is doing with the iPhone, and Myerson has acknowledged this in the past.

"To be entirely candid, the iPhone opened our eyes as to some things that needed to be done that were not in our plan. Some execution had really gone astray," Myerson said in a March interview with The New York Times.

Andrew Brust, chief of new technology for twentysix New York, a Microsoft solution provider in New York City, believes that Windows Phone 7 will strike the right balance between consumer and business features. Of greater importance, in Brust's view, is how well Windows Phone 7 devices will work in terms of stability, speed, touch screen accuracy and responsiveness

"If Windows Phone 7 falls short on any of those areas, then the consumer-business balance may be an attribute of academic importance," Brust said.

If Windows Phone 7 devices are going to catch on in enterprises, they'll have to be secure enough to meet the approval of CIOs. In addition to securing devices with PINs and passwords, Windows Phone 7 devices won't support SD cards and their data won't be accessible via PC tethering, Bryan said in the blog post.

Windows Phone 7 also includes remote wipe, a crucial feature as illustrated by the Gizmodo iPhone scandal, and its application sandboxing and managed code provide additional protection, according to Bryan.

All of these changes mean that Windows Mobile developers will have to start over on a new platform with Windows Phone 7. Although developers with Silverlight skills will have an easier time of it, Microsoft is aware that there's a lot of work involved in the transition. "We understand that migrating from Windows Mobile 6.1 or 6.5 to Windows Phone 7 will take effort," Bryan said in the blog post.

But Chris De Herrera, a Los Angeles-based Microsoft Windows Mobile MVP and editor of the Pocket PC FAQ blog, says starting over on applications, security strategy and deployment processes will increase developers' costs. He's not convinced that Windows Phone 7 will offer enough to make it worthwhile.

"What is the compelling reason for a business to upgrade? I currently do not see one, and I think Microsoft is continuing with Windows Mobile 6.5 because of this," De Herrera said.